Gay Pride festivities take on special meaning for revelers

The Pride Parade turns into a celebration of the Supreme Court's decision that granted gays the equal right to marry.


They wore the colors of the rainbow in shirts and hair and body paint at an event that many recognized as so much more than just a parade and good party.

Thousands of Tampa Bay residents and other Floridians gathered Saturday for the annual St. Pete LGBT Pride Parade and block party along Central Avenue, a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

And for many, this was a chance to celebrate getting a measure of equality.

"All I want is equal rights," said Christopher Mills, 25, of Riverview, who attended the event with his boyfriend, Jaelen Chaning. "I just want the same legal rights as anyone."

The parade and party took on a special resonance after the high court's 5-4 landmark ruling that the 14th Amendment guaranteed same-sex couples the right of marriage across the nation.

"Equality is everything," said Kelsey Jordan, 21, of St. Petersburg as she arrived at the parade. "This makes it an even greater celebration. It gives us more of a reason to get together and have fun and get turned up a little bit."

But the celebration also was marked by the acknowledgement that the victory at the Supreme Court would not be the final battle for gay rights. Also present at the parade were protesters who carried signs condemning gay marriage and shouted through bullhorns that gay couples would be damned.

"Eternal hell awaits," one sign read.

"Repent!" one of the protesters shouted at Amanda Mole, 29, of Spring Hill, who held her own sign: "God loves gay people."

"You can't repent your biology," Mole shouted back at the protesters. "Jesus will still love you if you are gay."

Mole said the intolerance of the protesters shows how much work is yet to be done on so many fronts before gay Americans achieve absolute equality in so many other areas besides marriage.

Gays, she said, still get fired from jobs, can't adopt children and face open hostility in so many places.

"Equality in marriage is just one battle," Mole said.

Asked why he was attending Saturday's event, Anthony Austin replied: "Because I am a 52-year-old gay male who is proud to live in a fine city like St. Petersburg. And I am very proud to see that our government has finally recognized who we are. I'm very happy with it. We should have equal rights no matter what the issue is. It's not just about marriage."

Much of the community, both gay and heterosexual, came together for the parade and party. The smell of barbecue chicken wafted in the air with the booming beat of techno music. In the block party before the parade, people lined up for lemonade in the scorching sun. Men wearing fishnet stockings mingled with women sporting fake mustaches.

Afterward, throngs danced and children cheered as floats sparkled in the night.

One couple, Jeremy Coleda, 46, and Tara Taylor, 31, both of St. Petersburg, attended the parade for the first time. They said the political overtones of the event were impossible to miss even if they only wanted to attend a good party.

"I'm happy for them," Coleda said of the Supreme Court decision. "I think it's awesome that it finally happened."

"It's about time," Taylor said.

Mills, the Riverview resident who was at the parade with his boyfriend, said that on Friday he wore a rainbow wrist band that said "Pride" at his job as an assistant manager at a Dunkin' Donuts. He said he got more tips than he had on any previous day.

"It was the first time I wore it," he said. "Nobody complained. Nobody said anything. This is all about love."

Malissa Brown, 28, of Spring Hill and her wife said they were the first gay couple to receive their marriage license in Hernando County when the state ban on gay marriage was lifted in January.

Brown said even though her milestone occurred months ago, Friday was still an important day.

"I woke up to the news, and I had a smile on my face all day long," she said.

"It was great for it to be legalized in Florida, but for it to be legalized nationwide, and to know our marriage will be recognized no matter where we go, it feels great to be part of history."

Pollie MacKenzie, 65, and Sharon Van Hout, 56, both of St. Petersburg, said they have been a couple for 16 years but have not legally tied the knot.

Still, they consider themselves married.

"Equality, it's all we ever wanted," MacKenzie said. "The battle's been won. But the war's not over."

Van Hout said that the Supreme Court's decision will make it easier for the next generation.

"If nothing else, it will keep the event planners raking in money," Van Hout said.

Said MacKenzie: "Hopefully not the divorce lawyers."

Contact William R. Levesque at [email protected] and Josh Solomon at [email protected]